Neos launches IoT powered home insurance UK-wide


What do you get if you combine the Internet of Things with the business of home insurance? UK startup Neos is hoping the answer is prevention rather than (just) payouts.

Its home insurance product is intended to lean on sensor tech and wireless connectivity to reduce home-related risks — like fire and water damage, break ins and burglary — by having customers install a range of largely third-party Internet-connected sensors inside their home, included in the price of the insurance product. So it’s a smart home via the insured backdoor, as it were.

Customers also get an app to manage the various sensors so they can monitor and even control some of the connected components, which can include motion sensors, cameras and smoke detectors.

The Neos app is also designed to alert users to potentially problematic events — like the front door being left open or water starting to leak under their kitchen sink — the associated risk of which a little timely intervention might well mitigate.

It sees additional revenue opportunity there too — and is aiming to connect customers with repair services via its platform. So the service could help a customer who’s away on holiday arrange for a plumber to come in and fix their leaky sink, for example (there’s no smart locks currently involved in the equation though — Neos customer can name trusted keyholders to be contacted in their absence).

“The vision really is about moving insurance from a traditional claims, payout type solution… to one that’s much more preventative, and technology’s really the enabler for that,” says co-founder Matt Poll. “We also think that customers get quite a raw deal from their insurance company… for being a really good customer and not claiming… And no value.

“So what we’re trying to do is to provide value to customers throughout the term of their policy — allowing them to monitor their own homes, using our cameras and the devices that we give them. If there is an issue, they’ll get alerted. Most importantly they or us through our monitoring center and assistance service can put the things right… In that sense both the customer and us benefit if we’re successful.”

On the insurance cover front Poll claims there’s no new responsibilities being placed on customers’ shoulders — despite all the sensor kit that’s installed as part of the package. “There’s no responsibility placed on the customer. We’re really clear about that,” he tells TechCrunch. “Customers do ask this question — oh what if I don’t arm the alarm, does that mean I’m not covered? And our answer is simply of course you’re covered.”

The startup was founded 18 months ago by Poll, an ex-insurance guy, combining with a more technical co-founder. The team market tested their proposition last year in and around London, partnering with Hiscox on the insurance product offering for that trial. They’re now launching their own branded, own insurance offering nationwide.

Neos is actually offering a range of home insurance products, including a combined contents plus buildings insurance offering (or either/or), across three pricing tiers — aiming to support different levels of coverage and different types of customers, such as flat vs house dwellers, for example, or homeowners vs tenants.

While it’s generally aiming to be tech agnostic when it comes to which smart home sensors can be used — supporting a range of third party devices — Neos has developed its own smart water valve, for example, as Poll says it couldn’t find an appropriate existing bit of IoT kit in the market for that.

“It uses machine learning to monitor an individual’s water signature within their property over a period of a couple of weeks and then we can identify from that if there’s any leaks — small or large — and most importantly if a leak does arrive the customer or our monitoring sensor can turn the water off remotely,” he notes.

It’s also built its own hub to control the firmware on the third party devices its platform is integrating with. “We want to put ourselves out there to give customers the best solution for the job and move as the market moves,” says Poll on Neos’ overall philosophy towards hardware.

Despite all this additional kit to be installed in customers’ homes, Poll bills the insurance products as competitively priced (and positioned) vs more traditional insurance offerings. Neos’ prices vary from “approximately £15 to £50 per month”, which it says includes “all the necessary hardware, 24/7 monitoring and assistance plus the comprehensive insurance cover”.

“We’ve got some good early traction and I think the price point that we’ve come in at is attractive, and the value proposition is there,” says Poll, noting that the product will be on price comparison sites “by the end of this month — at the very latest”, as well as being offered through property website Zoopla, which is a distribution partner (and investor) in Neos.

He also says the insurance quote process has been radically simplified by Neos drawing on a range of publicly available data so that potential customers don’t have to answer to a large number of questions just to get a quote.

“We can actually give customers a full quote from just their postcode and their address,” he says. “We use 261 different data sources… One of our partners and early investors is Zoopla. They have a lot of data that they provide us. We also use data from Landmark and Land Registry — local authority data.

“Because all this data’s publicly available. We don’t ultimately need to ask how many bedrooms or bathrooms you’ve got — in most cases we already know that data. Actually in most cases we know the square footage of your property which is a much more accurate predictor of risk anyway.”

Another strand of the go-to-market approach is it’s also working with existing insurance brands to white label its offering — setting it up to scale more quickly into markets (and regulations) outside the UK.

“We’re just about to launch an Aviva-backed solution,” says Poll. “A lot of the big insurers are looking in this space but haven’t done anything… So we’ve had a lot of interest outside of just our direct Neos brand from larger insurers based here in the UK, Europe and also in the US.”

He says Neos is also hopeful of signing a “large scale partner in the US” — one of the top five home insurance companies — which would be a second strand to its white labeling/enterprise solution bow if they nail that deal down.

“Markets like the US… are very different from a regulation point of view and cost of entry for a small business like us to enter, so that model makes sense. But we’re very much — certainly now and we’ll always be — focused on the Neos direct to consumer brand,” he adds.

Poll says he’s hoping for a minimum of “tens of thousands” of customers within a year’s time for Neos’ b2c play — and “ideally” significant growth above that. “If you add in the b2b play as well in terms of customers actually utilizing our platform I think the potential is significantly higher than that,” he adds.

The startup has previously raised £5m in Series A funding led by Aviva Ventures and with BBC sporting personality Gary Lineker also investing. As well as Zoopla, another strategic partnership is with Munich Re, which has also invested.

Interesting takeaways from its beta period include that customers were keen to have help installing all the sensor kit (Neos is offering an installation service for a fixed price if users don’t want to fit the kit relying on its instructions themselves), and that security concerns appeared to be more of a smart home driver for the product than risks such as water leaks, so Neos tweaked some of the sensor bundles it’s now offering.

Poll also says customer feedback from the trial pushed it to offer a fix on premiums for their first three years (assuming a customer makes no claims) to reassure potential customers that it isn’t seeking to use smart home hardware to lock then in to its products and then quickly inflate premiums.

“It’s interesting how customer perceptions are,” he says, arguing there’s “a mistrust of the insurance industry as a whole” — which is something else Neos is hoping can be fixed with a little IoT-enabled preventative visibility.

Tests give iPhone X display top honors, but camera is merely competitive


Lab tests on the recently released iPhone X put Apple’s new flagship in the highest tiers of quality when it comes to the display and camera, but it’s only in the former category that it truly leaves the competition behind. Of course, what’s the point of having great images if your screen can’t show them properly?

Apple doesn’t tend to make their own displays; but while LG, Sharp, and in the iPhone X’s case Samsung rightfully deserve credit for making them, Apple doesn’t just snatch them off the shelf. A ton of money and time is spent customizing and tweaking them, and phones are individually calibrated before they ship to account for variation in the manufacturing process.

DisplayMate’s battery of tests aims at testing the absolute color accuracy, brightness, and other objective measures of a display. And by those measures the latest iPhone beats out even the latest OLED displays from Samsung, their parent company, as it were.

OLEDs naturally excel in a number of categories, from contrast to color accuracy, and Apple’s software emphasizes these strengths. Its color accuracy in particular is the best DisplayMate has tested. And conveniently, it switches to the correct color profile or gamut depending on the content, meaning you won’t see images intended for display in sRGB shown through the lens of Adobe or DCI-P3.

The iPhone X pretty much nails the whole expanded gamut with no weaknesses in any area whatsoever.

If that doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry — the whole point is you don’t need to be aware of it, and instead can simply be sure that photos, movies, games and so on will be seen exactly as they should be. All the same, you might want to spend a little time in the display options, since automatic white balance may throw off viewers sensitive to that kind of thing (me, for instance).

One change to the display tech that may be considered lateral is the move to diamond sub-pixels. Each pixel in digital displays, as you may know, is generally made up of a number of sub-pixels: different numbers and shapes of red, blue, and green that illuminate to various degrees to form in aggregate the colors we perceive.

For LCDs this often takes the form of an RGB grid, generally with a square composed of a red, a green, a blue, then maybe another green sub-pixel, or something like that. This has worked well but leads to certain patterns of aliasing, or pixelation. Different sub-pixel layouts produce different aliasing patterns.

The iPhone X’s sub-pixel layout is different from every previous iPhone in that the pixels are diamond-shaped and arranged in a diagonally symmetrical grid rather than rectangular and on a rectangular grid:

This is a super-close-up of the OLED sub-pixels.

Now, ever since the advent of >300 PPI screens, aliasing is much less of a problem than it once was. But some kinds of aliasing are preferable to others, and it happens that the type exhibited by the iPhone X (and others in diamond or Pentile arrangement) is not ideal for vertical and horizontal lines.

This comparison shot taken for iMore’s review of the phone illustrates this:

Definitely view this at full size if you want to see the difference.

On diagonals and round edges, the diamond pattern makes for a more natural curve without stair-stepping. But in straight horizontal and vertical lines, you end up with a sawtooth pattern.

That is, if you look at the phone through a microscope. While sawtooth aliasing was a problem back on the original Galaxy S, we’ve come a long way and pixel pitch is much smaller now, making the pattern, while it’s still there, much less noticeable. (I also say this having not looked at the thing in real life, and no one has complained so far that I know of.)

Camera vies with the best

DxOMark has tested all the flagships this year with a new set of mobile-focused tests, and while these semi-synthetic metrics should always be taken with a grain of salt, these people know what they’re doing and are of course unregenerate pixel-peepers.

The iPhone X surpasses the previous high score in still photos, very narrowly beating out the Galaxy Note 8 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro; it’s also better than the iPhone 8 Plus, which was itself briefly a high-water mark. So it’s excellent, as our review found.

As you might expect in a phone with a fantastic screen, color and contrast are particularly well captured. However, like other Apple devices its shutter lag was frequently longer than the competition — particularly the Pixel 2, which set a new bar for autofocus speed and precision.

It lost points in extreme low light, where it was also bested by the Pixel 2, and its flash portraits seem to be regularly underexposed. This is where it also lost points in video: noise and underexposure marked its 1080p/30 video.

It seems as though under good conditions, though, the iPhone X is as unimpeachable as both its predecessors and competition.

Boxed shows off the automated tech it uses to ship toilet paper and more

Boxed offers the online equivalent of the bulk shopping offered at stores like Costco. But big discounts aren’t the only thing the company’s focused on.

Boxed introduced automation to its Union, New Jersey fulfillment center earlier this year, installing a system where the items for shipping are transported to the people doing the packing. And the company says it was able to make the transition without eliminating a single job.

We visited the Union facility, where the company says it ships out 40 to 50 percent of its orders, and where we talked to CTO Will Fong and Vice President of Distribution Rick Zumpano about how technology changes the shipping process. We also got a sneak peek at the autonomous guided vehicles (basically, self-driving carts) that will be involved in transporting goods in the other fulfillment centers.

“If you think about what’s really happening behind the scenes, you’re tapping a few buttons on your phone and two days later a box full of toilet paper, paper towels, your daily essentials just shows up at your door,” Fong said. “So there’s a ton of technology that actually powers these types of transactions and this kind of fulfillment.”

B&O’s Beoplay E8 totally wireless earbuds really are the total package


Bang & Olufsen’s headphones tend to stand out from the crowd, and their new fully wireless mode, the Beoplay E8, is no exception. The E8 is easily the best totally wire-free headphone I’ve used thus far, with comfortable earbuds that should fit your regardless of your ear shape, good battery life of around four hours per charge, and the best sound quality of any true wireless buds I’ve tested – and I’ve tested a lot.

The Beoplay E8 are diminutive and understated, making for a far better in-ear look than Apple’s somewhat ridiculous looking AirPods, and they come with a charging case with a full recharge for the buds built in, making for total unplugged play time of 8 hours before you have to find an outlet. The case itself is head and tails above the competition, too, with a sleek, pebbled leather outer and no fiddling required to get the buds inserted within for a good connection to their charging contacts.

B&O has also done a great job with the companion app for the Beoplay E8, offering easy presets and manually configurable equalizer settings so you can tune the sound based on your preferences or the type of content you’re using them to listen to. The app also uses Bluetooth LE for a super easy out of the box pairing experience, which is only marginally more challenging than Apple’s W1-enabled near-field pairing for the AirPods.

In the box, B&O also crucially includes Comply isolating foam earbud tips for the headsets themselves, which really up the game in terms of audio quality. I generally recommend using Comply tips if you want to be able to focus in on sound quality with any pair of earbuds, but often they’re only available as an aftermarket add-on, so it’s great to have them included right alongside the other tip options here.

Another big benefit here vs. some other options are intuitive, touch-based controls built right into the headset. You don’t have to press a physical button into your ear as a result, and the top controls are easy enough to manage once you follow the in-app instructions to learn how to use them to control playback, volume, transparency modes and more. Speaking of transparency, that’s another standout here: You can tap once on the left bud to enable audio passthrough, ensuring you can go about your business during the day without theoretically ever having to take the earbuds out, while, for instance, shopping or paying for a transit ticket.

The Beoplay E8s come in either a black or a charcoal sand colorway, but I reviewed the black ones and they’re ideal for anyone hoping to get the most out of truly wireless buds while remaining relatively discreet about their use. Either look is good, however, and the matching case is also terrific to look at.

The E8s are also very capable when it comes to using your phone’s virtual assistant, including Siri, and when making calls. People I spoke to reported good sound quality on the other end, using the built-in microphones on the small buds.

B&O’s offering is a bit pricier than some of the other options out there, including AirPods, at $299, but they deliver unmatched sound quality in this category for that price, as well as reliable, rock solid connectivity and great sound customization features. If what you’re after is truly wireless earbuds, and your primary qualification in making a buying decision is that they be the best available all-around, the Beoplay E8 definitely fits the bill.

The Jolt is a $500 electric bike for the masses


Electric bikes range in price but the best ones come in just north of $1,000. Now, however, you can own a foldable electric bike with a 50 mile range for less than $500.

The Jolt ebike, created by a guy named John Madden, is selling now at an early bird price of $499. That’s a quarter of the final price and a great deal on an ebike.

The bike is about the same size as your standard aluminum folding bike but it includes a large LG battery built into the frame. You can use the bike in pedal assist mode for a 50 mile range and it has a 30 mile range if you don’t want to pedal at all.

The bike ships fully assembled and includes everything you need to go ebiking through the countryside, including an LCD readout of speed and range. It can go a maximum of 20 miles per hour.

The crowdfunding campaign has already hit $87,000 and the bikes should ship next April, just in time for a spring-time jaunt.

4 TechCrunch writers bought the iPhone X. Here are our thoughts


Happy iPhone X day! A few of us over here at TechCrunch received our new toys today and wanted to share some initial thoughts with ya’ll.

Leggo.

First up, Megan Rose Dickey, the lunatic who at one point told co-workers she felt like she was on drugs during her initial iPhone X exploration.

I could barely sleep last night because I knew that at some point today, my iPhone X would arrive. After getting showered and dressed, I went on over to my parents’ place, where I was set to receive the shipment.

FedEx arrived around 11am PT this morning and I promptly lost my shit. The first thing I did, obviously, was try out the animoji. Here’s one I sent to my colleague Darrell Etherington.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyx0jCGGuWM?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent&w=640&h=390]

The animoji are great, but now I want anibitmoji, ya know? Anyway, the Face ID works like magic and I love it.

Next up, Sarah Buhr, who did not feel she was on drugs but was definitely grinning from ear-to-ear when the UPS guy arrived today.

My previous phone was an iPhone 6 with a hairline crack on the screen I never bothered to fix so the X was a much needed upgrade. It’s also a beautiful piece of machinery. I’m still setting it up this afternoon but so far FaceID seems to work very well. It even recognizes me with glasses on or off.

The camera lives up to the hype, too. Hi-res, high quality. I took a pic of my living room against the window and the light and color still balanced well. Nice touch!

One thing I would like to skip is the need to swipe up after the phone ID’s your face. The swiping takes some getting used to and there’s a lot of swiping with this phone. Why not just ID my face and let me in?

And Darrell Etherington, who reserved the phone for pick-up in store first thing Friday morning so he could check out the launch day hype in person.

This iPhone replaces the iPhone 8 Plus I had been using (which is now on its way to a new home with my dad). It’s already a huge step-up from the Plus line for me just because of the size, since it’s a lot smaller without sacrificing much screen real estate.

I, too, love the Animoji – I’ve been using them like you’d use voice messages on WhatsApp or WeChat, since they’re incredibly easy to record and I feel like if I’m asking about dinner plans it’s just better coming from a pig or a panda.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B465GBYFDn4?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent&w=680&h=383]

I’m also surprised at how quickly I adapted to Face ID, which I never thought would even approach Touch ID in terms of convenience. I now already find myself assuming it’s going to work on the 8 Plus and my iPad Pro, and taking a minute to remember to use my thumb or finger instead.

Fitz Tepper depended on the hospitality of his hotel and a backup order to make absolutely sure he was ready and armed with iPhone X on day one of availability.

I’m pretty weird about needing to get Apple devices the morning they come out. Old timers will remember my first ever post on TC was when I camped out at the only store in the U.S to have the Apple Watch on launch day.

SO, when I found out I’d be in Chicago for a conference on the big day, I had to prepare accordingly. I stayed up until 3am on preorder day and somehow managed to get one sent to my hotel, and another one to my house. The idea was that my flight back home was at 4pm, and there was no way I’d be thwarted by a late UPS delivery. Worst case I’d just have the hotel ship me the second one to return or give to a family member.

Anyways, I’m just now getting it up and running – and my only initial thoughts are regarding the size and screen. It’s so small! Coming from many years of using iPhone pluses, it’s weird typing on a smaller keyboard. Of course the tradeoff is that the device itself feels great, and fits perfectly in your hand.

One other weird thing that’s going to take getting used to – no home button. I have ten years of home button muscle memory, and that’s definitely not going to be fixed overnight.

We’re by no means trying to sell you on the iPhone X. It’s super expensive and a lot of us will be paying it off for quite some time. But if you like the latest and greatest technology, this is it. Check out TC’s official iPhone X review here.

Meural’s upgraded Canvas is a surprisingly awesome showcase for art


Meural’s second-generation Canvas digital art display is now available, and I’ve been testing one out for the past couple of weeks to see how it stacks up. This is my first experience with any kind of digital canvas product, and I have to admit I had very low expectations going into it – but the Meural is actually an outstanding gadget, provided you have the means to commit to it, including the base price of purchase and the add-on subscription that Meural also launched to keep it populated with a broad library of content.

The Meural Canvas retails for %595 or $695 depending on your preferred frame finish, and includes a 27-inch diagonal full HD (1080P) display. The screen features a glare-free finish, a maximum brightness of 300c/m2, and an auto-dimming feature to help it match the ambient light in the room. The frame also includes Wi-Fi connectivity, with up to 802.11 ac speeds across both 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels, and there’s a computer inside powering the whole thing with a 1.8HGz Quad Core ARM processor, a Cortex-A17 graphics chip, 2GB of RAM and 8GB of onboard storage.

The specs are good, but the best part about them is that once you’re up and running with the Canvas (and setup is easy, using the companion mobile app to connect to your Wi-Fi in just a few minutes), you never have to think about them again. Canvas does its job so well you’ll forget it’s a wall-hanging computer, in fact, and come to think of it more like a magical painting whose contents can change, Harry Potter-style, in an instant – and which even supports artwork with motion elements, including large-format cinemagraphs.

Canvas’ real strength is in its proprietary display tech, which combines that glare-free screen with intelligent matching for the room lighting and an uncanny ability to make digital images look like they’re printed or even painted: Depending on your room lighting, the Meural hardware looks like it actually is a genuine painting, and the effect is particularly amazing in well-lit rooms with a lot of natural light.

All of this comes at a slight cost in terms of installation requirements, since there’s a power cord supplying the energy needed to run the Canvas. The included cord is a braided white nylon affair which is durable and relatively easy to hide away, however: I ran a cable holder like you might use for a wall-mounted TV to disguise mine, and I’ve received a number of compliments on how well it blends in with the rest of the decor. And in terms of power costs, they’re minimal – the Canvas only uses the equivalent of less than half of that of a standard light bulb.

The physical dimensions of the Canvas itself are also something you need to take into consideration when thinking about buying this, since it’s 30.4-inches by 20-inches, which is likely to take up a decent amount of wall space for many. It was perfect for my high-ceiling apartment on the main floor of a house, however, and truly stands out as a decorative feature regardless of what’s begin shown in the frame, especially in the attractive walnut frame finish ‘Winslow’ model I tested.

To choose what your Meural Canvas shows, you can either navigate to the web interface or use the mobile app. On the web, you can browse a wide variety of collections curated by Meural, some of which are limited to its subscription service, which is available for $4.95 per month or $39.95 per year. The Mural Membership provides access to the entire library, and exclusive feature collections and editorial curation, however. Plus, if you don’t want to pay, you can also upload any of your own art and organize it into playlists, too.

Meural also offers a number of different options for how it displays art, including adjustable brightness (or automatic adaptive), duration of time each piece in a collection is shown, whether it’ll rotate through the various collections you have on your Canvas, and whether it’ll display horizontal/vertical/cropped images or any mix of the above.

In the box, there’s mounting hardware included which makes it dead simple to install, even if you’re not particularly handy, and you can rotate the Canvas at any time using the clever anchor and frame mount design.

Some critics have noted that Meural’s Canvas might not have the highest resolution display (it’s HD in an age of increasingly 4K and Retina screens), but this turned out to be a non-issue for me. The viewing distance for the screen is such that you’re not going to notice any pixelation anyway, and the Meural team has focused on aspects that matter more, including even backlighting, adaptive brightness, proper color rendering and better viewing angles.

One unexpected benefit of Meural’s Canvas: It got me doing some with my own photography besides storing it in the cloud. I always have good intentions to print some of my favorite shots from my travel photography, but I never actually do – on the Canvas, it’s as easy as uploading the images via your desktop browser and creating your own playlists. You can even include photo credits and contextual details, in case you really want to show off.

This might be the real target demo sweet spot for Canvas: Artists and photographers who want a personal showcase without the printing. But it’s actually a fantastic addition to any household, provided spending $600 or so on a screen with a very specific purpose makes sense to you. Honestly, I didn’t think it would with the Meural Canvas, but testing the latest generation of the digital frame proved otherwise.